BCCI is the biggest media company in the country: Rahul Johri

In an exclusive interview, Rahul Johri opens up on his journey as CEO of BCCI, his vision for Indian cricket and his take on his critics

e4m by Simran Sabherwal & Ruhail Amin
Updated: Oct 31, 2017 8:45 AM

Rahul Johri, CEO, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has been handed over the mandate to restructure the working of what is perhaps the world’s most-cash rich cricketing body and make it more corporate-like.

His report card so far has been impressive. In almost 18 months, Johri has helped BCCI make some historic gains in revenue and brought in a new work culture that has won him some fair share of praise and good amount of criticism too.

In an exclusive interview, Johri opens up on his journey as CEO of BCCI, his vision for Indian cricket and his take on his critics. Excerpts:

As the first ever CEO of BCCI with a challenging mandate of transforming this organisation into a corporate entity, how has the journey been so far?

The journey is very interesting and challenging and it is a very diverse and large organisation, and while we are based here, cricket is played at every nook and corner of the country and to be able to channelise all of that is extremely challenging and interesting, and that is what we enjoy.

The way the BCCI functions is that there is a Board and there are multiple committees, so for every major compartment and for every major category of decision making, there is a committee.

Now, what is the job of a CEO over here? The CEO is a link between everybody. The outside world only looks at it from the international cricket men’s team. That is only one part. We do 1000 domestic games in our six month calendar whether it is Ranji trophy, Duleep Trophy, CK Nayudu, Under-19, Under-23, Under-16, so all of that is organised by this office. At one point when the operation was small, it was a different time altogether, but today Indian cricket is one of the biggest sports bodies in the world and to run that, a level of professionalism has to happen and that is what we are doing.

Some BCCI members have complained about the lavish expenses incurred by the BCCI management, would you like to counter them?

I do not think we have any lavish expenses at all.

The controversies and the Supreme Court monitoring the Board have in a way dented the image of BCCI. What are the efforts that you are making to change this?
There is the BCCI board and there is BCCI management to say or the BCCI officials and they are running the show. They are doing their job. The court has approved all of them. The team is performing well. And why is the issue here? The issue is because the flow of money came faster than the systems. That is the classic case that happens anywhere. If you look at it today, the total amount of money that we have already signed up this year is more than what BCCI has done in its entire history. If you see my term, this has been the most turbulent phase for the BCCI but this also going to be the most lucrative phase of the BCCI because the amount of money that is going to flow through the BCCI into cricket in the next five years is more than what the BCCI has made in its entire history.

Coming to the implementation of Lodha Committee recommendations, BCCI has set up an internal committee which says that such recommendations cannot be implemented without understanding the set of complexities involved, what's your take on that?

You have got to understand this thing as a whole. There is the Lodha Committee report, the Supreme Court of India has ruled on that and given a constitution. That constitution has to be adopted by the BCCI. However, the BCCI is registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Act, for a new constitution to be adopted it has to be voted by 75% of the members, that has not happened at this point in time, because of which the Honourable Supreme Court appointed a committee of administrators. So today, the office bearers, the CEO work under the supervision of the Supreme Court appointed committee of administrators. The committee of administrators is responsible for the running of the BCCI today, and that is what we are doing.

Now the relationship between the office bearers, the associations, and the Supreme Court is a totally different matter, so it doesn’t impact us in our day to day working. What are we focused on a day-to-day basis is that cricket has to happen, the highest quality of cricket has to happen and all systems have to function. That is what we are doing. Now the difference that will happen is, today the old constitution of the BCCI is in force because the new one has not been accepted. Tomorrow the new one will be in force. However as professionals, it makes no difference to us, our job remains the same, who we report to, how we report to that may undergo a difference but our job remains the same and so long as we are focused on delivering the highest quality of cricket and smooth running of cricket, it is fine.

One of the Lodha Committee recommendations is to have strong structures in place for local associations, how are you working towards reforming it?

Well again, there are two parts to this. The state cricket associations are really the bedrock of cricket in India. It is their hard work that has resulted in the cricket infrastructure percolating down to the grassroots and today you are seeing the result of that.

The proof of that is the bench strength of the Indian cricket team; today we are the number one test team and ODI team in the world. The reforms that need to happen is an issue between the state associations and the Supreme Court of India. So again, we are not in them. Our job, like I was telling you is domestic cricket, what are the rules to be set, all that is our job. We do our job and what needs to happen between the state associations, the BCCI and the Supreme Court is a different matter altogether.

Moving to IPL, what are your views on the recently concluded IPL auctions? Did you expect the bid levels to go so high?

The IPL media auction was a fantastic auction. It was really a testimony to Indian cricket and if you see the way the auction worked and the kind of bids. Look at the kind of companies which participated, the best in class in every category was there. Look at the level of interest that it generated and you have to understand that the IPL is the most disruptive television property in the country.

If you are a mainstream television player, digital or a company with digital ambitions, the IPL is a must have and that is what was at play. If you look at television again, there is no property which gets the kind of audiences across demographics year-on-year that the IPL gets. I have been a television executive in my earlier avatar and all our schedules would go haywire. If you look at the television industry, everyone starts advertising for their shows immediately after the IPL, because they need to remind their viewers. That is how disruptive the IPL is and the same goes with digital. Which is the digital property that people watch on their phones, it is the IPL. That is why I do not hesitate in saying that the BCCI is the biggest media company in the country.

Even the period of IPL media rights has been reduced from 10 years to five years, what was the rationale behind it?

If you look at it objectively, what happens is that there are pluses and minuses of both. If you look at a 10-year window then what was happening was that we gave digital rights as a delayed feed. Our objective is simple, we got to deliver to the BCCI and Indian cricket and our stakeholders, which are the franchisees, the best value and structure the whole contract in a way that it delivers the best value. So when you do 10 years, on one level people can spread the risk over a bigger period of time and that would result in a higher value. That is the plus of 10 years. If you look at five years what would happen is, number one- digital is delayed so if we had sold it for 10 years, digital would have remained delayed for 10 years, and with the way the digital market is going, and it got proven by the level of excitement that happened in the digital bids, that a shorter window was better so that there is no digital delayed feed right now. What would have happened is, fortunately one person has won it so it is going to be live – digital as well as television and that is the offer we had put in and in any case that was part of the tender document that if the same person or a consortium bid wins then it would become live and the difference would go. However, had two different people won it and when it would have come up for renewal, it would have been a delayed feed again.

Were you surprised how the bids panned out?
There is nothing to be surprised of because we were confident that the property and the value of the property would deliver the best bid. What happens in the bidding process is that every company comes with their bidding strategy and that is the good thing that this process could deliver on different strategies. You see Sony came with a TV strategy, Facebook came with a digital strategy and Star came with a global strategy. Everybody had a different strategy over there and that is what was playing out over there.

Though the rights have a bidding process, there is a perception about a monopoly by one broadcaster as far as cricket rights and coverage is concerned. What would you say about it?

I have not seen that monopoly anywhere. I will tell you the reason: the last IPL was with Sony and the India rights were with Star, which is in 2017. In 2018, Star has the BCCI rights, and International rights till March 31. So when their first IPL starts after that BCCI rights are open to tender, and how that tender will play out is anybody’s guess. You see, at the point in time when Star has international BCCI bilateral rights they do not have the IPL rights. By the time the IPL rights will accrue to Star, the term of BCCI bilateral rights would have finished. So in theory there is no monopoly at any point.

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